Friday, July 19, 2013

The Pet Dragon: a Story about Adventure, Friendship and Chinese Characters by Christoph Niemann

When my daughter was learning Chinese in high school, she used to have a character book in which she would write each character she had to learn that day over and over.  Each character, she would tell me, is like a picture of its meaning.  And when you read Christoph Niemann's cleverly written book The Pet Dragon, you can really see how true that it.

 The story is simple - a young girl, Lin, is given a pet baby dragon as a gift.  Lin and the dragon do everything together, but when the dragon shatters a vase, Lin's father insists he be put in a cage.  The next morning, the cage is empty and the dragon has left.  Lin looks everywhere for her friend - in the city, in the country and finally, with the help of an old lady and some magic beans, in the sky.  There, she finally finds her baby dragon, now all grown up and beautiful, living with his family.  When Lin returns home, she and the dragon promise to visit with each other often, and her father is so happy she has returned, he plans a celebration for Lin and the dragon.

The beauty of this book isn't exactly in the story, but in how Nieman has worked the Chinese characters into it to demonstrate the pictorial meaning of the characters used.  Each character used is superimposed over a corresponding illustration.  Here are examples of some of my favorite pages from The Pet Dragon to show you how Niemann put the book together:

  Niemann states that his purpose is not to give kids, or adults for that matter, lessons in Chinese, but to perhaps inspire them them to want to learn more.  And, though the story is a bit forced, it's purpose is not to tell a clever story, but to ingeniously demonstrate how characters reveal their meaning.

The characters used are simple enough for young children to learn and remember.  When we first got this book, my niece L'naya was fascinated by it.  One day we were in a restaurant, waiting for our meal to come, and next thing we knew. L'naya had written some of the characters from the book on the place mat.  My Kiddo was amazed that L'naya had remembered both the character and its meaning so easily.

Niemann introduces the reader to 33 common, useful characters, making The Pet Dragon is definitely a fun book for beginning Chinese or just to read out of curiosity.

This book is recommended for readers age 4+
This book was purchased for my personal library.

Even if you have never heard of Christoph Niemann, you have probably see some of his work, like this
Google Doodle for the first day of summer:


  1. This looks great! My son will start Chinese characters in second term (from September) and this would be great to associate with English. The basic Chinese characters are the same in Japanese too. Will definitely get this, thanks Alex!

  2. I really love this idea - the Chinese culture is very rich in Vancouver and especially the area we live in. I would love for my kids to just get a peek into what the Chinese characters mean and what they look like. Great idea!

  3. Love the idea, so unique and creative!

  4. Sounds perfect for my kids learning Chinese characters!

  5. Fabulous - this is definitely one for me to get. As I use to speak Mandarin I like teaching my kids basic words. Learning meanings of characters is great. (for example the character for peace is a woman under a roof = in a house !)

  6. I am always trying to find books that explains the creation of words. Will be getting this book to read with my son. Thanks for sharing!


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